The announcement comes just before Biden was scheduled to travel to Pennsylvania for an event to discuss gun violence as well as attend a Democratic fundraiser in the evening. It also comes just after Biden’s return from a trip to the Middle East and as the highly contagious BA.5 variant has raised concerns about another wave of infections across the globe.
The first lady Jill Biden tested negative for Covid on Thursday morning, said White House spokesperson Michael LaRosa. But because she is a close contact, she will follow CDC guidance on masking and distancing and plans to keep to her scheduled visits Thursday to Michigan and Georgia.
Biden joins a growing list of public officials who have tested positive for Covid in recent months, including his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, Vice President Kamala Harris, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The announcement of his infection comes as the White House is trying to manage crises on multiple fronts. It also occurs as the administration has sought to project a new phase in the pandemic fight, one in which the country would learn to largely live with and manage the virus.
The virus has spread across D.C. in recent months, after a variety of well-attended events. More than 2,600 journalists, politicians and celebrities gathered for the return of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner after a two-year pandemic hiatus. Biden, who did not attend the dinner portion of the event, sat at the signature dais with the first lady — both without masks.
“I know there are — I know there are questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of Covid. Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic. Plus, everyone had to prove they were fully vaccinated and boosted,” the president said during his speech at the event.
The White House has continued to aggressively push for Americans to either get vaccinated or get their booster shots. And there had been early concern within the West Wing that, were the president to become infected, it would give fodder to vaccine skeptics and Covid-mandate critics, as West Wing Playbook reported in January.
The White House has also consistently battled outside concerns and commentary about Biden’s age and health. The president, 79, received a booster dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine in September and a follow-up booster in late March. Though he has suffered various recent health ailments, his physician declared him “fit for duty” after a physical this past fall.
Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that third doses are at least 90 percent effective at keeping Americans infected by the Omicron variant out of the hospital. The extra shots are even more important for adults 50 and older.
While the risk of the president developing severe disease is significantly reduced because of his vaccination status, the protection isn’t bulletproof. Older adults are still at higher risk of developing severe Covid.
The president’s access to top medical care also lowers his risk of a severe bout of Covid. Harris also received the oral antiviral Paxlovid after testing positive.
Biden’s infection is the second time a U.S. president has been personally hit with the virus. Then-President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid in fall of 2020 — before vaccines were available — after the White House hosted a suspected “superspreader event.” After more than 200 people, mainly maskless, attended the Sept. 26 event at the White House Rose Garden, where Trump announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, nearly a dozen people later tested positive.
Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus and often resisted wearing a mask, was sicker with Covid than was publicly acknowledged at the time, The New York Times reported in February 2021. He was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as officials worried he would have to be put on a ventilator because of dangerously low oxygen levels and lung problems. He received drugs not widely available at the time, such as Regeneron’s antibody cocktail and the antiviral drug remdesivir, during his three-day stay in the hospital.
Trump reportedly tested positive for Covid three days before his first presidential debate in September 2020 with Biden, according to a new book by his former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows said Trump received a negative test shortly after the positive test and resumed normal activities. Trump has called the story “fake news.”